Old Palisade Road Then and Now
The history of one of the oldest roads in Fort Lee captured in photography and art but forsaken today.
Last week’s piece centered on the Old English Neighborhood of Fort Lee that hugs lower Main Street and River Road just below Kaufer Lane. I left out a discussion of Old Palisade Road because I felt that lonely little road deserved a moment in the sun on its own merits.
Just north of the Fort Lee Pump Station on lower Main Street as Main meanders into River Road, there is a lonely, forgotten and somewhat desolate reminder of a time when this section of Fort Lee was noted for its artists and bohemians from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.
Old Palisade Road climbed the cliffs to Kaufer Lane and beyond. South of its base was The Castle, a foreboding, grand wooden mansion set into the cliffs with turrets and steps made of Palisade bluestone at its base – one of those cave-like turrets and walls remains to this day; the very modern Palisades Condominium sits above it at 100 Old Palisade Road.
The Castle was built around 1900 and survived until a fire destroyed it in the early 1970s. During the "Roaring Twenties" the Ortlip family of artists called The Castle home. Their studio and living quarters were in the old building. Later into the 20th century the Ortlips moved into the old Belvedere Hotel atop the cliff hugging Old Palisade Road east of Parker Avenue.
Here patriarch Paul D. Ortlip painted many of the sights and people of Fort Lee, including Old Palisade Road. Paul’s brush captures a very leafy, rural and splendid winding road from the mid-20th century. Today’s road still has the same winding path, but the leaves, trees and spirit of the road seem missing. And only the ghostly bones of the road survive.
You can see the original Ortlip painting of Old Palisade Road in the Fort Lee Public Library's Meeting Room Gallery. The walls of the gallery currently are adorned by Paul Ortlip’s works. The Fort Lee Historical Society and the Fort Lee Public Library have worked together to offer this meeting room gallery space to the Ortlip family.
Paul’s daughter Michele and her husband Josh, both Fort Lee natives, curate the entire Ortlip art collection in their gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. They hope to establish an Ortlip Art Gallery in Fort Lee, but until that day, the library has offered them use of the wall space for a revolving display of Ortlip family artwork, which will include not only the work of the late Paul Ortlip, but also that of other Ortlip family members, including Paul’s father, Willard Ortlip.
These weekly archive pieces are not just about the past. Consider these tales something akin to Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," and let my pen serve as the ghosts of Fort Lee’s past, present and future.
As regards the future, I hope that perhaps the residents of The Palisades Condominiums would consider reclaiming Old Palisade Road and working with the Borough of Fort Lee to beautify it by perhaps planting some wildflowers natural to the area in the spring. In this way, we could bring a part of the past alive again and reclaim our lonely, little and forgotten Old Palisade Road as a vital part of our past and present.